No place for orange slices: Why USWNT was right to run up score against Thailand

Dan WetzelColumnist

The United States women’s national team opened the World Cup on Tuesday by defeating Thailand 13-0.

The most disappointing aspect of that result is that it wasn’t 14-0 — an early goal by Alex Morgan was disallowed due to a questionable offside call.

Morgan still netted five goals, tying a World Cup record. Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis had two each. Lindsey Horan, Megan Rapinoe, Mallory Pugh and Carli Lloyd all added one. It was a complete beatdown, the largest margin of victory in World Cup history.

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And for everyone complaining it was too lopsided or unsportsmanlike or unfair … please, this is the World Cup, not some rec league where everyone gets a snack bag and an orange slice afterward.

“This is a world championship,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis.

Thailand obviously isn’t at the level of the United States, the favorite this month in France. That’s unfortunate. Women’s soccer is still a developmental sport around the globe, mainly because national governing bodies have refused to invest in it. Maybe getting crushed — and witnessing just how beautifully women’s soccer can be played — will spark some soul searching back in Thailand.

Alex Morgan of USA celebrates a goal with teammates during their team's 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup win over Thailand. (Getty)
Alex Morgan of USA celebrates a goal with teammates during their team's 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup win over Thailand. (Getty)

And, yes, the U.S. is richer than Thailand. But this is also about will, not just money. The American men have all the resources they could ask for, yet they can’t play dead in a cowboy movie.

To criticize the women for being too good and arguing they needed to make the final score “look good” for Thailand not just ignores the rules of World Cup play, but is a complete insult to every athlete on the field — on both teams.

First off, this is group play. The top two teams will advance to the knockout stage. The Americans want to win the group and get, presumably, an easier draw in the knockout stage. Goal differential is the first tiebreaker.

To stall the offense and win by a more “respectable” 5-0, for example, would put the U.S. at a decided disadvantage. Sweden, the other Group F contender, could just beat Thailand 13-0, or even 8-0, when they play. Then Sweden could have gone into its final preliminary stage game against the United States knowing that all they needed was a tie to win the group because the Americans went soft on Thailand.

That would be a huge strategic advantage for Sweden, and thus a disadvantage for the U.S. In turn, by staking out a plus-13 goal differential in this game, should Sweden not be able to match the U.S. firepower against Thailand, then the Americans would have that advantage.

The Americans didn’t make the rules, they are just playing by them. FIFA is clear — score goals. Lots of them.

What about pulling all the starters? Well, first off, talent runs 23 deep on the U.S. roster, so that would only help so much. Lloyd, the hero of the 2015 World Cup, was a sub on Tuesday. That’s how good the U.S. is.

Regardless, in World Cup games, teams are allowed just three substitutions, so eight starters are going to be out there no matter what. Again, those are the rules.

Every other complaint ranges from patronizing to pathetic.

Should the U.S. have not played as hard in an effort to somehow spare Thailand’s feelings? Well, why would anyone think the Thai players are so emotionally fragile that they couldn’t handle a lopsided scoreboard?

This isn’t youth sports. These are grown women. They can deal with disappointment as well as the men.

Likewise, it’s absurd to think it would be less embarrassing if the United States just passed the ball around and didn’t shoot (and thus score) late. How so? Thailand would know the Americans were taking pity on them and didn’t see them as worthy competition. It would be humiliating.

“I think that to be respectful to opponents is to play hard,” Ellis said.

Afterward, some Thai players spoke about the honor of playing the best in the world, despite the result. Thailand celebrated when it qualified for the World Cup even though it knew it would be overmatched against quality sides. Just getting here was the accomplishment.

When you’re a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, you want your chance at Duke. You don’t want Coach K to tell Zion Williamson to go easy because maybe you are so dumb you won’t notice and thus feel like you actually are equals. No one would ever suggest such a thing.

Finally, there were complaints the U.S. players shouldn’t have celebrated their goals because scoring was so easy.

Except, scoring a goal in the World Cup is never easy.

It might not have been difficult against Thailand in the second half, but that was just a single moment of the play. Just getting here required years and even decades of sacrifice and work from each and every American player (and their families, coaches and teammates through the years).

To score in the World Cup is an accomplishment any serious player dreams about. For Pugh, Lavelle, Horan and Mewis, these were their first-ever World Cup goals. To say they shouldn’t celebrate the accomplishment or suggest it holds less value due to the opponent is to dismiss all the blood, sweat and tears it took to get here.

Yes, the game was a massacre, but that’s what happens sometimes in sports. These American women aren’t here to go easy on anyone. They aren't here to consider hurt feelings. That would be insulting to everyone involved.

They are here to win and they’ll inspire a generation of girls around the globe by playing exactly how they did on Tuesday: full-throttle, unapologetic and with both power and creativity.

They played the beautiful game, beautifully. It was something to behold, not condemn.

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